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PIECE OF CAKE, PEACE OF MIND

Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time


Being 23 has been a lackluster experience thus far. But, believe me when I say that I mean that in the best way possible.

Nothing much has happened since I’ve turned 23, which means nothing bad has happened either.

I had the chance to grab coffee with my friend’s dad/old teacher of mine who has known me since I was a preteen. We reminisced about first Coachella’s and European adventures nearby in Bayview, and he mentioned something about my blog, which, until now, was neglected for several months.

When I thought about why I’ve been having a hard time posting (and believe me, it’s not that I’ve just forgotten about it), it’s in large part correlated to my happiness, I think. Reading through my blog is like a roller coaster for me. It has helped me remember small, seemingly insignificant details about my life that I would never be able to recall otherwise. But, posting in college was also very therapeutic for me. It was a way to get my thoughts out in my academic world that was being overrun by numbers and theorems. It was a way to capture my anxiety, excitement, and fear over three years. But now, I’ve come to this point in my life where I’m very content. I’m happy with my relationships, my working life, my abilities, and my goals, and it’s very hard to be anxious or complain about anything (though my roommates will tell you otherwise).

College was for me, as I imagine it is for most people, a constant series of ups and downs, that eventually mostly goes up at the end. Or maybe it’s that because you hit so many lows for the first time in your life in college, the aftermath can never really seem all that bad. Plus there have actually been studies done that indicate 23 is a great year for people in terms of feeling satisfied. Go see for yourself.

So my blog, I guess, has fallen by the wayside because I’m almost too content. But lately, I’ve been realizing that it won’t be like this for too much longer. Going back to school next year will be an interesting experience, especially since I’ll be in a wholly new environment for probably the first time in my life since middle school. I won’t have any friends or family to fall back on if things get tough, so I foresee this blog getting more use once again (if I have access to an oven, that is).

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to get good (or better) at as many hobbies as possible while I still can. God only knows I won’t be doing many hobbies in the next five years or so. I’ve picked up needle felting, which a lot of my friends think is weird. but I think is pretty awesome, and I’ve been adding some new stitches to my knitting repertoire. Plus, I’ve been baking a lot of bread. Trying at least. I say trying, because baking bread is a huge time commitment. Because you have to keep letting the bread rise for hours (but not too long!) you basically have to stay home for at least one full day, if not more. It’s like babysitting an inanimate object that you can eventually devour with butter. Not the worst way to spend a day.

Plus, there’s no denying that freshly baked bread is one of life’s greatest joys. If you don’t agree with that statement, you probably have a gluten allergy (I’m SO sorry), or you are the spawn of Satan. Just kidding, but not really. Maybe it just means you haven’t been lucky enough to rip off a piece of still steaming, chewy, fluffy bread, with a crispy crust right out of the oven and enjoy the almost divine experience. Again, I’m very sorry if this is the case.

For me, the holy grail of all breads is the French baguette. Eating 1 euro baguettes every day is hands down one of my favorite parts of going to France, and probably my favorite aspect of French culture in general. Those guys got it right when they decided to focus their culinary efforts on gluten-filled treats (I don’t discriminate against croissants either).

The first time I tried to make a baguette, a couple of things went wrong. First, I didn’t have a baking stone, which is basically a thick tile or stone that heats the oven evenly and makes the bread form a nice crust. This has been remedied by Sam, who gave me a set of stones for Christmas. Secondly, I didn’t have a squirt bottle. Water and, more specifically, steam, are extremely important in achieving that thick, crusty outside. I tried the ice-in-pan method the first time, but it didn’t work very well at all. Thirdly, I didn’t use bread flour (too lazy), which gave the bread too fine of a crumb, and finally, I didn’t make a sponge days before baking (basically allowing the yeast to get really….funky. And tasty.). All of these things were remedied this time around when I used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe, and the baguettes came out deeeeelicious.

Despite our stupid overly sensitive smoke detectors going off every 10 minutes while I was baking, it was a great way to spend a day off. I would definitely recommend using this recipe/guide to attempt baguettes if you’re feeling ambitious, except for the part where they say to let the bread rest 30 minutes before eating it.  That’s just foolish. It’s not for the faint of heart (or people with minimal baking experience), and takes 3 days in total. But considering the end result is nothing short of a magical experience, I’d advise you to find the best baker in your immediate vicinity and pay them to make this for you.

Holey, elastic crumb. Aka pure joy.

So as I sit here eating way too much bread, here’s to getting continually more dissatisfied with life until I’m 69 years old! May my growing discontent result in many more blog posts to come.

French Baguettes

Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients

SPONGE
½ cup (2¾ ounces) bread flour
½ cup warm water (110 degrees)
½ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

DOUGH
3–3½ cups (16½ to 19¼ ounces) bread flour
¾ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1½ cups warm water (110 degrees)
1½ teaspoons salt

GLAZE
1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Directions

1. FOR THE SPONGE: Stir all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the sponge has risen and fallen, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

Fallen sponge (you can see how high it was before it fell)

2. FOR THE DOUGH: Combine 3 cups of the flour and the yeast in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the water and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap (no need to remove it from the mixer), and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

3. Remove the plastic wrap, add the sponge and salt, and knead the dough on medium-low speed until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If after 4 minutes more flour is needed, add the remaining ½ cup flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl, but sticks to the bottom.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Following the photos, turn the dough in the bowl with a dough scraper or large rubber spatula. Cover, let rise for 30 more minutes, then repeat the turning process. Cover and let rise until the dough has doubled in size, about 30 minutes longer.

6. Top a large rimless (or inverted) baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Following the photos, shape each piece of dough into a baguette and lay it seam side down on the prepared baking sheet, spaced about 5 inches apart. Mist the baguettes with vegetable oil spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with knuckle, 1 to 1½ hours.

7. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a baking stone on the rack, and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Let the baking stone heat for at least 30 minutes (but no longer than 1 hour).

8. FOR THE GLAZE AND TO BAKE: Score the top of the breads with a razor blade or sharp knife, cutting four ½-inch-deep slashes along the width of each baguette. Brush the breads with the egg-water mixture, then spray lightly with water. Carefully slide the breads and parchment onto the hot baking stone. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake until the crust is deep golden brown and the center of the bread registers 210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 25 minutes, rotating the loaves halfway through baking.

Baking stones are great for pizza too

9. Transfer the breads to a wire rack, discard the parchment, and let cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

Rachel’s addendum:

10. Enjoy with lots of butter.

 

 

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